Addressing the problem of air quality in SW Surrey. Response to @GWFoE

On Twitter, we were asked this question by Guildford & Waverley Friends of the Earth:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The graphic is showing there is a school outside Godalming in the middle of Jeremy Hunt’s constituency that has had a pollution recording of 63 which is twice as much as the legal limit allowed. Many people, and especially parents of young children, have expressed concern to me about the poor air quality locally, due to traffic fumes, and its impact on health.

BACKGROUND

Air quality is key to the health of humans and ecosystems. Surrey’s borough and district councils have a statutory duty to identify Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) where current or future air quality is unlikely to meet the Government’s national air quality objectives.

There are twenty four such areas in Surrey, and the main source of the pollutants in these areas is road traffic. The County Council, as the highways authority for the county road network, has a statutory duty to bring forward proposals in these declared areas.

The Air Quality Strategy (PDF) is produced by Surrey County Council and describes the statutory framework, the nature of the problem, and the County Council’s aim, objectives and preferred strategy approach. It is, however, the responsibility of Waverley Borough Council to monitor air quality, declare AQMAs and prepare the action plans. Pages 28 -29 offer 2 different strategies (one is behavioural and the other relates to infrastructure) and many have been picked up by neighbourhood plans in Farnham, Godalming and Haslemere

LOCALLY

Road traffic is one of the main contributors to air pollution in Surrey’s AQMAs. Waverley has 2 AQMAs, Farnham and Godalming.

Due to central government cuts, buses have been cut particularly in rural/semi-rural areas in South West Surrey. Talking to residents whilst campaigning in Farnham and Haslemere yesterday, they tell me there is a poor transport planning and a total lack of integration. Voters tell me poorly planned bus timetables mean that buses don’t meet commuter trains. Real-time information for buses, of the kind you find in cities, is lacking in rural/semi-rural Surrey,  so buses become less attractive as transport. Residents tells me that parking is a tool used by councils as a cash cow and not as an economic tool to address any of these transport issues that could feed into an air quality strategy.

Haslemere’s Neighbourhood plan survey identified high levels of popular support for strategies that made cycling and walking safer- but lip service is paid to these ideas and Surrey County Council’s strategy seems to be getting people to drive around the county as fast as possible for commerce. There is no real funding or target set for cycling or waking for example- although acknowledge health and environment benefit for move from car based society. Schools run Golden Bus Challenges but they incentivise a change in behavior only for the duration of the event and offer no incentives to sustain long term changes in behavior.

Jeremy Hunt made decked parking at Farnham and Haslemere station which means adding more cars to the roads but it does nothing to reduce car dependence and they simply create more traffic and pollution. And in the new decked car parks, there is no provision for electric cars. In the new cycle hubs there is no plug in for electric bikes- no vision in your hilly towns!

One resident told me, they never had asthma until they moved to Waverley. There are serious health effects as outlined in pp 34-35 of the Air Quality Strategy (PDF).

The Farnham Society sub-committee was set up in early 2015 to study and write a report on air pollution within Farnham. There has been a delay in publishing the report because Waverley and DEFRA have been uncooperative and refused to provide Air Pollution reports for 2015 and 2016, since the Society has made critical comments! Here is the report: http://farnhamsociety.org.uk/agm-2017-air-pollution/

Members also expressed concerns over the Brightwells scheme’s impact on Farnham’s already-congested road network and associated air pollution, which regularly exceeds levels deemed safe by the EU. http://www.farnhamherald.com/article.cfm?id=117015&headline=Judgement%20day%20for%20Brightwells%20protesters&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017

Plans to pedestrianize Farnham town centre, wheeled out by Jeremy Hunt at every election then quietly forgotten again, won’t solve the problem, according to Farnham residents I spoke to. As much of the traffic is through-traffic, pedestrianisation will just divert traffic to other parts of Farnham such as Upper Hale, where people there will suffer the effects of increased pollution.

CONSIDERATIONS

  • It will be difficult to tackle the pollution issue as long as the “Car is ‘King’!
  • There must be investment in public transport solutions e.g. more buses and “Park and Ride/Stride”
  • Along the lines of the Neighbourhood Plan consultations the public should be asked what they think and to come up with solutions, with the support of expert advice and evidence..

Other senior Tory ministers have poor Air Quality in their constituencies:

Theresa May – Maidenhead, Philip Hammond – Addlestone, Chris Grayling – Epsom, Boris Johnson – Uxbridge. Nothing is being done! Read more in this Telegraph article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/11991350/Mapped-Where-is-air-pollution-killing-the-most-people.html

There was alos an article in the Evening Standard last week: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/revealed-top-tories-constituencies-suffer-blight-of-toxic-air-a3534236.html

STEPS without national government intervention

  • Sign up for an air monitoring kit on the Friends of The Earth website. Friends of the Earth’s air pollution team is developing a kit you can use to monitor, avoid, and improve polluted air where you live. Sign up on their website. )
  • School runs – walking buses and Golden Boot Challenges that support long term changes in behaviour not temporary changes in behaviour. Reduce fumes from the school gates. Include this with school education programmes.
  • Town-wide FitBit leaderboards.
  • Shuttle buses, for example, to encourage shoppers and discourage cars.
  • More promotion by SCC for its Car Share initiative.
  • Plant more trees and hedges at ground level.
  • Install electric car charging points.
  • Create walking signage, e.g. “10 min walk from here”

LONG RUN

In the long run there has to be a reduction in use of the kinds of cars that pollute. That means the promotion of electric cars and a reduction in diesel cars. One way of doing that could be to introduce congestion charging for cars going through towns and villages in Surrey, with no charge for electric cars and a higher charge for diesel cars.

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